New Year’s Day has a magical, fresh-slate quality to it, almost begging for you to resolve to do something differently or be better at something. Creating an “annual intention” is a purposeful way to focus your efforts and move closer to your goals. Whether you begin on January 1, or on any other day of the year, tuning into — and honoring — your core values can powerfully motivate you to keep this promise to yourself.

annual intention

Focus: Choose one quality to cultivate

Have you ever told yourself that you want (or need) to become more empathetic after an argument with your spouse? You then intentionally focus on cultivating that quality — until a different situation hijacks your attention. Perhaps, a few days later, something at work prompts you to decide that you want (or need) to become more confident … which then shifts your focus away from developing greater empathy. A few days after that, it’s something else. Before you know it, you’ve become a “quality-hopper.”

Rather than crafting a list of 10 things you want to do better or differently in the new year, choose just one quality to develop over the course of the year. The full year. 365 days. While January 1 can be an ideal date to start, you can choose any day of the year that feels right. It might be your birthday, the anniversary of your college graduation date, the day your divorce becomes final, or any other transitional date that is meaningful to you.

By intentionally choosing — and maintaining focus on — this one quality for a full year, you are giving yourself practice time to develop a sustainable, life-long way of being. And with your attention centered on this one quality, you are able to expand ways of thinking and deeply establish behavioral competencies that support that quality. As a result of that laser-targeted focus, the roots grow deep.

Eeny Meeny Miny Moe, Which Quality Do I Want to Grow?

For most people, choosing which quality to target can be the biggest challenge. The following questions can help you reflect on your recent past so that you can make a decision that aligns with your priorities:

  • When have you felt particularly stuck … in a rut? What is your interpretation of what may have been holding you back?
  • Are there areas of your life where you feel shame, embarrassment?
  • What do you want to bring more of into the world? It can be the wider world, or in your corner of the world.
  • What do you consider to be your developmental edge? What is next for you to grow into?
  • What challenges do you foresee on the horizon, and what competencies will help you meet those challenges with skill and poise?

While it’s important to choose a quality that connects to your core values, don’t put too much pressure on yourself. A year may sound like a long time, but you’ll have another opportunity to choose your next emerging developmental target in a mere 365 days!

Related: Does Your Life Align With Your Purpose?

… and, Begin!

If you’re like most, you’ve crafted New Year’s resolutions in years past, carrying some of them out successfully, and abandoning others by the middle of January. Traditional resolutions fail for many reasons, including lack of clarity or commitment. Many resolutions — especially those to “quit” or “lose” something — have a punitive undertone, which can make them feel like a heavy burden.

By contrast, you might discover that framing an annual intention around a specific quality, like courage, curiosity or compassion, feels more self-nurturing. The minute you choose a quality, you begin to line up your thoughts and behaviors to support the growth of this competency.

Know what inspires you. External motivators, like deadlines, can work in the short term; however, if you’re building lifelong habits, intrinsic rewards will motivate you to put those daily habits into practice. You can find those internal motivators by looking at your core values.

Encourage yourself along the way, recognizing even the smallest of strides toward progress. Throughout the year, look for opportunities — both big and small — to ask yourself, “how can I bring more perseverance into this situation?” Use the powerful guidelines around deep practice to rewire your brain. Notice how, over time, this intentionally-cultivated quality moves from being something you have to work at, to something that becomes part of who you are. Cumulatively, everyday actions build lifelong results.

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Does Your Life Align With Your Purpose?
Deep Practice and How It Can Make You a Better Leader